Announcement: SOA releases October 2019 Exam STAM passing candidate numbers.

Pioneers

Pioneers

Pledge of Allegiance

Linda M. Springer took an oath to serve her country after the September 11 terrorist attacks–a move that has been both challenging and gratifying.
By Jacque Kirkwood

Linda M. Springer, FSA, MAAA, spent more than 25 years in the financial services industry in executive positions responsible for general and financial management and strategic operational planning. She, like many Americans, felt the call to serve her country after the terrorist attacks of September 11. Springer is the eighth director of the United States Office of Personal Management (OPM). In this interview, she discusses government life, on–the–job challenges and how her actuarial background has helped her progress in her career.

As director of the United States Office of Personnel Management, what are your main job responsibilities? The director serves as the principal advisor to the president of the United States for personnel management of the 1.8 million federal government civilian workforce, and leads the agency of approximately 5,000 employees in:

  • Design, development and compliance oversight of federal government workforce human capital and personnel policies.
  • Management of the world's largest single employer–sponsored health insurance plan–the federal employee's plan.
  • Administration of retirement benefit plans covering all three branches of the federal government.
  • Background investigations for 90 percent of potential federal government employees and contractors.
  • Leadership of the human resource portions of the federal government's e–Government modernization initiatives, including USAJOBS.gov.
  • Management of three executive leader– ship training institutes with 13,000 attendees annually.

The most visible responsibility is deciding when to close the National Capitol Region (the Washington, D.C. area) of the federal government when it snows.

Prior to being named director, you served as controller, White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Would you give our readership some details about that assignment? The controller heads the Office of Federal Financial Management which resides in OMB and functions as the corporate controller for the executive branch of the government. Responsibilities include functions that are similar to those of private sector organizations–oversight of financial reporting and integrity, standards for financial systems and general financial policy setting–as well as some that are government specific, such as financial grants management.

You joined the Bush Administration after spending more than 25 years in the financial services industry? What prompted the move? I was one of those people who felt the call to serve the country after the September 11 attacks. Unlike most senior level political appointees, I hadn't worked on or contributed to a political campaign and didn't have the usual contacts. It's really a credit to the administration that they considered such an "outsider."

Readers will be interested in how much face–to–face time you have with the President and what he's like in person. In a typical year, I see the President about six times, generally in small group meetings that range from Oval Office policy briefings to award ceremonies. President Bush is inquisitive, personable and always on time.

What has been your biggest challenge/most memorable achievement as director? My biggest challenge as director is common to essentially all federal agency CEOs–lack of autonomy. The federal government is designed to prevent the bad rather than enable the good. Consequently, results–oriented leaders are constrained in the amount they can accomplish during their tenure.

My most memorable achievement to date: informing hundreds of OPM employees that I was reversing a pre–existing decision to subject them to a potential outsourcing. Their relief and gratitude was so emotionally expressed that I knew that the lives of hundreds of hard working, dedicated people and their families had instantaneously improved.

At the Academy's annual meeting last fall, you were quoted as saying that policymakers were in desperate need of the skills that actuaries bring to the table. You also noted that actuaries can "help in shaping policies that are sound, that are effective and that serve the American people." Would you expand on these topics? One of the hallmarks of the profession is work product credibility. Since leaders in any organization, including government, are only as effective as the data underlying their decisions, this attribute is increasingly desirable.

A practice area that has broad applicability, inclusive of government work, is evaluation and mitigation of risk. In its traditional form or more expansively, risk management often has a place in policy development.

A third application of actuarial expertise is the valuation of legislative proposals that are "priced" for the expected "cost" over their future duration. Sound familiar?

Is your job exciting? My job is never boring. The range of issues and people I work with is so diverse that no two days are alike. Some of the most memorable experiences include visiting wounded servicemen at the new Center for the Intrepid and doing a tailhook landing on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.

Describe a great day on the job. The main ingredient for a great day is interaction with other people–talking with college students about their future careers; visiting OPM associates around the country; leading the creation of something new, like our first–ever TV ads for federal government job opportunities; visiting with other government leaders who care about the federal workforce; and speaking to an enthusiastic audience.

How has your actuarial background factored into your career choices? My actuarial background provided the fundamentals–analytical and financial–that were instrumental in getting access to organizational leaders and opportunities. Each new professional assignment became a classroom for developing management, communication and people skills that are critical for success. But the entrée was the result of the outstanding reputation of the actuarial profession.

What about your actuarial training and experience has been most helpful? I'd have to say the emphasis on credibility. It can't be overstated and it has universal applicability.

How do you personally measure success? There are many ways to measure success, but one that I like is being able to demonstrate that the area for which I've been responsible is better off than it was before I became involved.

How have you advanced the frontiers of actuarial science? Those of us who assume non–traditional positions raise the profile of the profession. This visibility will expand the range of career choices for the next generation of actuaries.

If you had to do it all over again, would you still pursue a degree in actuarial science or a similar field? There is very little that I would change if I were to restart my career. I would still pursue fellowship in the Society.

As you see it, how has the actuarial profession changed since you first came aboard? Actuaries have dramatically broadened their span of influence from being predominately valued numbers experts to business and policy leaders, both in and outside of the financial services industry.

What advice do you have for up and coming actuaries? There are two things that I would offer. First, don't limit your career options. Many opportunities will emerge over your career lifetime if you are willing to be open to them. Second, be sure to develop good communication skills–written and verbal. Both are critical for just about everything you do.

What is the most important lesson you've learned during your career? Treat other people the way you want to be treated. It's not revolutionary, but it covers most situations.

What do you do in your free time? Any particular hobbies you'd like to share with the readership? I enjoy golf, gardening, watching pro basketball and teaching Sunday school. I also used to play cello in what you might call a semi–pro orchestra. Most of these have been scaled back recently, but will hopefully re–emerge.

How does it feel to be considered an actuarial pioneer by your peers? If I've helped someone to think more expansively about their career choices, then that's great.

How do you want people to remember you? Demanding, but fair and followed the golden rule.

Linda M. Springer can be reached at director.springer@opm.gov.

Jacque Kirkwood is senior communications associate for the Society of Actuaries.